Belfast Telegraph

UK Website Of The Year

Home News World

White House defends Trump's 'wholly appropriate' discussion with Russians

The White House has defended US President Donald Trump's disclosure of classified information to senior Russian officials as "wholly appropriate".

It came as officials tried to beat back criticism from fellow Republicans and concerns from international allies.

One day after officials declared that reports about Mr Trump's discussions with the Russians were false, national security adviser HR McMaster said the president had been engaging in "routine sharing of information" with foreign leaders.

Mr Trump himself claimed the authority to share "facts pertaining to terrorism" and airline safety with Russia, saying in a pair of tweets he has "an absolute right" as president to do so.

Mr Trump's tweets did not say whether he revealed classified information about Islamic State (IS), as published reports have said and as a US official told the Associated Press (AP).

The official said the information Mr Trump divulged came from a US intelligence partner.

The revelations sent a White House accustomed to chaos reeling anew and drew rare serious criticism of the president from some Republicans.

His action raised fresh questions about his handling of classified information and his dealings with Russia, which is widely considered an adversary by many US officials and Western allies.

A senior US official told the AP that Mr Trump shared details about an IS terror threat related to the use of laptop computers on aircraft with Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov and ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak.

The classified information had been shared with the president by an ally, violating the confidentiality of an intelligence-sharing agreement with that country, the official said.

The official said that Mr Trump boasted about his access to classified intelligence in last week's meeting with Mr Lavrov and Mr Kislyak.

An excerpt from an official transcript of the meeting reveals that Mr Trump told them: "I get great intel. I have people brief me on great intel every day."

Mr Trump was later informed that he had broken protocol and White House officials placed calls to the National Security Agency and the CIA looking to minimise any damage.

The official would not say which country's intelligence was divulged.

As president, Mr Trump has the ability to disclose classified information largely as he chooses.

Yet his decision to discuss an ally's information on IS with other countries could damage his standing with world leaders and lead some countries to start second-guessing their own intelligence-sharing agreements with the US.

A senior European intelligence official told the AP his country might stop sharing information with the United States if it confirms that Mr Trump shared classified details with Russian officials.

Such sharing "could be a risk for our sources", the official said.

Mr McMaster, in a White House briefing, said: "In the context of that discussion, what the president discussed with the foreign minister was wholly appropriate to that conversation and is consistent with the routine sharing of information between the president and any leaders with whom he is engaged."

He cast some of Mr Trump's revelations as information that was available from publicly available "open-source reporting" and added that the president did not know the precise source of the intelligence he had shared, suggesting that Mr Trump could not have compromised confidential sources.

The Kremlin dismissed the reports of Mr Trump's actions as "complete nonsense".

On Capitol Hill, Democrats and Republicans alike expressed concern.

Senator John McCain called the reports "deeply disturbing" and said they could affect the willingness of allies and partners to share intelligence with the US.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called the intelligence uproar a distraction from Republican priorities such as tax reform and replacing the healthcare law.

"I think we could do with a little less drama from the White House on a lot of things so that we can focus on our agenda," he told Bloomberg Business.

Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called for Congress to have immediate access to a transcript of Mr Trump's meeting with the Russians, saying that if Mr Trump refuses, Americans will doubt that their president is capable of safeguarding critical secrets.

Mr Trump ignored reporters' questions about whether he disclosed classified information.

Following a meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Mr Trump said only that his meeting last week with Mr Lavrov was "very, very successful".

Asked why the NSA and CIA were put on notice if the revelations were not problematic, Mr McMaster cast the notification as being provided "from an overabundance of caution".

The disclosure put a source of intelligence on IS at risk, according to The Washington Post, which first reported the disclosure on Monday.

On Monday, Mr McMaster told reporters: "The president and the foreign minister reviewed a range of common threats to our two countries including threats to civil aviation.

"At no time, at no time were intelligence sources or methods discussed and the president did not disclose any military operations that were not already publicly known."

The revelations could further damage Mr Trump's already fraught relationship with US intelligence agencies.

He has openly questioned the competency of intelligence officials and challenged their high-confidence assessment that Russia meddled in last year's presidential election to help him win.

His criticism has been followed by a steady stream of leaks to the media that have been damaging to Mr Trump and exposed an FBI investigation into his associates' possible ties to Russia.

AP

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph